School-Aged Children and Sleep Habits

The summer is ending, and now is the time to get ready to get your sleep back on track for school. Preparing for the morning routine of waking up before dawn to go to school could be a rude awakening for most kids who spent the summer without a regular schedule. The switch from sleeping in and spending the day at swimming lessons or summer camp to waking up at 6 a.m. can be a shock to the system. The best method to get ready for a school routine is to start early and make gradual changes.

Sleep is important, as it boosts and maintains the immune system. Recurrent sleep deprivation can cause health problems, even contributing to weight gain. For teens that drive to school, it’s particularly important to be well rested, particularly because drivers under the age of 25 account for the majority of drowsy driving traffic accidents. Lack of sleep can also cause poor concentration, hinders learning, and potentially lowers a student’s GPA.

At most U.S. schools, the first morning bell rings at 8 a.m., and 20 percent of children and teens need to report to their first class by 7:45 a.m. or earlier. This can make it tricky to get to bed early enough to get adequate sleep.

While an average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night, a child has different needs at different ages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, preschoolers should get approximately 11-13 hours of sleep a night, kids up to 12 years old should sleep about 10-11 hours per night, and teenagers require between 8.5-9.25 hours.

Many of the standard sleep hygiene tips still apply to get enough sleep for school. For example, it’s important to turn off the TV, computer, cell phone and video games a few hours before bedtime. These devices make it more difficult to fall asleep as the light coming from these electronics activates the brain. A good policy is to keep the TV out of your ‘sleep sanctuary’ and to associate the bedroom with sleep only. Other such tips include making the bedroom cool, dark and quiet and associate the bedroom only with sleep.

For the transition from summer vacation to school, here are some specific methods to get back on track:

  • In the two weeks leading up to school, set an earlier bed time in order to return to an appropriate sleep schedule. Set a bed time that is earlier every night and set a slightly earlier wake-up time every morning.
  • By the time school starts, make sure the child or teen gets enough sleep for their specific age group.
  • While setting these earlier wake times, make sure to get outside to soak up the morning sun. This sends a powerful signal to the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Maintain the sleep schedule. Try not to let your child “catch up on sleep” over the weekends once a sleep schedule is established. This will result in “social jetlag,” which can lead to lower productivity levels during the weekdays and may potentially cause weight gain.
  • Limit or avoid naps. The luxury of napping won’t be available to school-aged children when they start school, so weaning off naps can help keep your sleep schedule in check.
  • Be a role model. For parents, it’s important to set a good example by establishing your own regular sleep schedule and maintaining a home that promotes good sleep hygiene.
  • By readjusting the sleep schedule earlier, you ensure that your child will be well rested and excited for the first day of school, setting the best chances for success.

To learn more about how to monitor and maintain proper sleep habits for school-aged children, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.